By David Rogers. February 13, 2016. LOS ANGELES, CA — A surge by Tyler Pennel at the 16-mile mark played a major role in the outcome of the U.S. Olympic Trials Men’s Marathon road race on Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, but the 28-year-old Blowing Rock-based elite runner could not hold on to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team. Pennel finished 5th as Portland, Oregon’s Galen Rupp ran away from everyone in his marathon debut, winning in 2:11:12. Forty-year-old Meb Keflezighi finished second at 2:12:20 and Jared Ward was the third Olympic team qualifier in 2:13:00. Pennel’s 5th place time was 2:14:57.
COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock’s Tyler Pennel can be seen at right near the front at the start of the men’s marathon race.
Blowing Rock News coverage of the U.S. Olympic Trials for the men’s and women’s marathon races was made possible by sponsorships from Blowing Rock Medical Park and Plus Urgent Care, divisions of UNC Caldwell Memorial Hospital.
Through 16 miles there were nearly two dozen men running in the lead pack, with several flip-flopping to the front position, including Pennel. It was at the 16-mile mark, however, that Pennel took the initiative, surging to nearly a 24 second lead before Rupp and Keflezighi reeled him in.
Pennel was the 15th seed coming into the race based on qualifying times, so was a bit of a surprise leader for approximately three miles after he surged ahead, leading from the 16 mile mark to about 19 miles when he began to fade.
Tyler made the race.
The early slow pace concerned many of the elite team coaches because it brought many more potential “players” into the finishing equation of the race, increasing the probability of an upstart or wild card contender running the race of his life and snagging a spot on the Trials qualifier podium.
In the official post-race press conference, Keflezighi answered a question from Blowing Rock News about the significance of Pennel’s mid-race surge, if it might even have prompted a sort of masochistic relief that someone took the initiative to create the separation.
“Tyler made the race,” the veteran of 23 marathons said of the ZAP Fitness/Reebok team member’s surge. “When Galen (Rupp) took off after him, I had to go, too. Both of those guys are sub-four minute milers.”
Also in answer to the question, Rupp noted, “This was my first marathon. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I went with him.”
I didn’t know what to expect, so I went with him.
The third place qualifier, Ward, said that he didn’t have it in him to go that fast at the time, so he kept plodding, hoping that he could gain some separation from those behind them and that at least one of the three then ahead of him would come back. That turned out to be Pennel.
Rupp was the silver medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, in the 10,000 meters. His silver was the first U.S. medal at that distance since Billy Mills won gold in Tokyo, in 1964.
Blowing Rock’s Johnny Crain, also running for ZAP Fitness/Reebok, finished in 2:27:37 (53rd out of 164 finishers).
The fifth Blowing Rock runner, Griff Graves, did not have a time or place available at this writing.
In the Women’s Marathon Olympic Trials race, Blowing Rock’s Esther Erb Atkins finished 11th, in a time of 2:37:56, near the front of a record 196 finishers. Joanna Thompson, running as part of the Blowing Rock-based ZAP Fitness/Reebok team, finished in 2:54:29 (97th).